Political duel after government says can’t name tax haven account holders

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s submission in the Supreme Court Friday that it cannot disclose names, received from foreign governments, of people who have allegedly stashed away their ill-gotten money in tax havens abroad triggered a war of words between the Congress and BJP.

While the Congress accused Prime Minister Modi of “hypocrisy” on the issue of bringing back black money, the Bharatiya Janata Party said the government was bound by the provisions of the treaty of double taxation avoidance signed by a previous Congress government.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also said that the names cannot be revealed due to a confidentiality clause in a double taxation avoidance agreement India had signed with Germany in 1995.

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The government made its stand in an application before the Supreme Court seeking modification of an earlier court order asking it to disclose the all names it had received from German government to petitioner Ram Jethmalani.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the application for an urgent hearing before a bench of Chief Justice H.L. Dattu, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice A.K. Sikri.

The government has said that the names of such account holders against whom the prosecution has been launched could be disclosed as they are in public domain but in case of others, it was bound by the confidentiality clause.

It also said that such disclosures would be counter productive for get information on black money stashed away in tax havens as foreign governments would not share such information in future.

However, senior counsel Jethmalani, the petitioner in the plea seeking steps to bring back the black money stashed away to tax havens, assailed the government position saying that it could be position of people involved in taking ill-gotten money to tax havens and not that of the government.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi Friday sought an apology from Modi over the government’s stance in the apex court.

He said it was unfortunate that the same party which accused the United Progressive Alliance government of not being interested in bringing back black money has told the apex court that they are unable to disclose the information they have collected.

“If there is the slightest bit of political honesty, the prime minister should apologise to the nation,” he said.

He also recalled Modi’s tweets during the campaign for Lok Sabha polls in which he had taken digs at the Congress and said the National Democratic Alliance will bring every paisa stashed abroad.

Singhvi also called upon activists Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Kiran Bedi — all of whom were part of the anti-corruption agitation against the UPA government in the past — to launch a similar agitation against the BJP-led government.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, however, sought to put the onus back on the Congress.

“What the government told the court is based on the clauses of the treaty since the erstwhile Congress government signed a treaty of double taxation avoidance under which names cannot be disclosed,” Patra told the media.

Jaitley, who spoke to media persons in the evening, echoed the stance taken by the government in the court.

He said the names cannot be revealed due to a confidentiality clause in a double taxation avoidance agreement, and a disclosure can only happen if a proper investigation is started against individuals and a substantial amount of evidence is found against them and given in a court of law.